On My Shelf helps you get to know various writers through a behind-the-scenes glimpse into their lives as readers.
I interviewed J. T. English—lead pastor of Storyline Fellowship in Arvada, Colorado, co-host of the Knowing Faith podcast, and author of Deep Discipleship: How the Church Can Make Whole Disciples of Jesus—about what’s on his nightstand, favorite biographies, books on ministry, and more.
What’s on your nightstand right now?
I’m currently reading four books. First, I’m slowly making my way through Dominion: The Making of the Western Mind by Tom Holland; I feel like I’m learning something on every single page. Second, I’m reading Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning. A big portion of my job is spending time in various learning environments, so I’m always trying to pick up good tips, tricks, and ways that I can improve as a teacher and preacher. This book has some wonderful insights into how people learn. I’m also making my way through a book written by my former colleague at The Village Church, Jen Wilkin: In His Image. Finally, I’m spending a lot of time in Genesis this year, and I’m reading Kenneth Mathews commentary (volumes 1 and 2) on Genesis. So far it has been a fantastic resource.
What are your favorite fiction books?
This question is always hard for me because I know how important reading fiction is, but I never quite feel like I have read enough of it to give a good answer. If I had to choose two, I would say All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque and All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr.
What biographies or autobiographies have most influenced you and why?
My favorite biography of all-time is Augustine of Hippo by Peter Brown. I feel like what Brown does in this biography is introduce you not just to the person but also to Augustine’s heart. I also really enjoyed Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden.
What are some books you regularly re-read and why?
In addition to Brown’s biography of Augustine, I also revisit Augustine’s Confessions and On The Trinity, John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion, and Herman Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics. These rich resources and theology have shaped me in ways I can’t really articulate. I go back to them time and time again, not just as theological resources for sermon prep or writing, but more importantly as books that help me enjoy God in deeper ways. I also revisit much of Kevin Vanhoozer’s work, especially The Drama of Doctrine.
What books have most profoundly shaped how you serve and lead others for the sake of the gospel?
I’ve benefited greatly from Ellen Charry’s By the Renewing of Your Minds: The Pastoral Function of Christian Doctrine. This book is a phenomenal job helping the church see the role of Christian doctrine in discipleship. I’ve also relied heavily on Richard Lints’s The Fabric of Theology: A Prolegomenon to Evangelical Theology. This book has helped me to understand the cultural moment, specifically as it relates to evangelicalism and how the church might respond in a gospel-centered way. Another book I return to over and over again is Michael Reeves’s Delighting in the Trinity. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve given away this book to help members come to a greater understanding of God and the gospel.
What’s one book you wish every pastor read?
I’d encourage every pastor to read The Book of Pastoral Rule by Gregory the Great. I’m always encouraged when I read books by men and women who were deeply engaged in ministry in different contexts and in different times. The struggles, challenges, and opportunities in ministry are often the same, regardless of context or era.
What are you learning about life and following Jesus?
The past 18 months has been marked by two things for me and my family: suffering and deepening faith. We’ve had medical challenges in our family that have caused us to walk through a season of intense suffering and grief. At the same time, the Lord has taught us that he meets his people in the valley. He has invited us into a deeper trust in him. He truly is near to the brokenhearted. This has given us some wonderful opportunities to walk in faith, simply asking the what he wants from our life.